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Feeling a little Bullish - Jake Thompson

avid Cox & Carl Baldwin

Sep 1, 2022

We always like to find a new trend at the Edinburgh Fringe and in 2022 we saw the rise of the One Person show. One of our favourites was Jake Thompson in "A Mighty Fall From Grace". Now that the dust is settling on this year's festival we spoke to him to see how his Fringe experience was.

So, how did your festival go? The run has gone amazingly well, for a niche subject and the fact I've promoted it pretty much on my own I'm pleased with the numbers I've got. I've also had some lovely reviews and had the one and only John Godber come in the first week, who was very complimentary about the piece, especially the writing which I was buzzing about!

Can you tell us a little about your background? I'm Bradford born and bred, I grew up in Birkenshaw and am genuinely a lifelong supporter of the Bulls. Although I've moved to Barnsley now I'll always be a Bradford lad at heart! "A Mighty Fall From Grace" is your first play. How difficult (or easy) was it to write? I wouldn't say it was easy but I was surprised at how once I got the ideas flowing, more and more would come seemingly from nowhere. I was first tasked with writing the play as my final project at university in 2019, I'd never considered writing before and wasn't convinced I'd be any good at it but went for it anyway. I chose the story of the Bulls as I'd always thought how it was worthy of being made into a drama, and having being a fan myself throughout the downfall years I was already quite knowledgeable on the subject. The mental health side of the story came as a sort of side note at first. It was also originally just up to where Andy burns the building down, with a general men's mental health message about how men often use sport as an outlet for their mental health. I then extended the play during lockdown in 2020 and it was during this time I decided to make it a piece about schizophrenia. This is something that is close to my heart, having had family members and close family friends suffer with the condition, I also feel like it doesn't get the attention it deserves and despite the amount of mental health work that is going on these days, schizophrenia still isn't spoken about and is still very taboo. I surprised myself again with how the existing content lent itself to becoming a piece about schizophrenia (for example the 'shitshow' sections, weren't originally going to be delusions but when I decided to add the schizophrenia message, those sections worked perfectly as delusions). So overall the writing process was challenging but fulfilling and really gave me the writing bug!

How did the link with Bloomin' Buds Theatre come about? Is Working Class Theatre important to you? I met Katie (the owner of Bloomin' Buds) at the Bradford Fringe festival in 2019 after performing the original version of AMFFG. Katie loved the piece, especially its Bradford ties and strong working class messages within it and aked if they could produce it. I entered into an artists in residence programme with Bloomin' Buds later that year, with the goal of taking it to Edinburgh in 2020, however we all know how that panned out, so I've been working closely with Katie and Bloomin' Buds since then.

Working class theatre is very important to me, be that making theatre about working class people and with working class themes, or making going to the theatre more accessible for working class people. While I was growing up we didn't go to the theatre often, and when we did it would be to see a big touring musical with expensive tickets, hence why we didn't go very often. I feel a lot of working class people see this as the only way to access theatre and are therefore put off by it, however if you scratch the surface there are countless theatre companies putting on all different types of productions all over the country at affordable prices and I think its very important that working class people get the opportunity to access these types of theatre productions. I therefore want to keep creating Theatre aimed at working class people and that is accessible to everyone.

There is a huge amount of emotion in the show, how much of this is from personal or lived experience and how much research did it involve? Everything from the rugby club side of the story is factual, I did research into it to ensure the dates and details were correct but much of that came from lived experience, having watched the collapse of the Bulls as a fan myself. I also sometimes used real stories to back up my points within the script, whenever they felt appropriate, however the plot of Andys' personal life is fictional. I did thorough research into schizophrenia as a condition while writing that section; I spoke to people in my life who had suffered with it, the people closest to them at that time, local mental health support groups and one mental health nurse, as well as watching documentaries and reading up on the condition. I wanted to ensure my piece wouldn't look like I was making light of the condition in any way, so made sure to include appropriate facts about the it and about the sectioning process. I also did a small R&D in which an associate of Bloomin' Buds who also works on a mental health ward was present, this gave me a real insight into how schizophrenic people truly behave and helped me sure up some of the facts within the piece. Did you see it as a piece of Theatre, a piece of Theatre with a particular message or should all Theatre have a message?

I saw my piece as having several messages within it. Obviously one of Schizophrenia, aiming to raise awareness of a still quite taboo condition. Another was more of a general mental health message, commenting on how men use their favourite sport as an outlet for their mental health because the don't feel they can any other way, and how this can have disastrous effects. And another purely from a selfish point of view was to spread the word of rugby league and of Bradford, I'm a lifelong Rugby league fan and don't think it gets the coverage it deserves, and as I say in the play, the story of what happened to the Bradford Bulls is as unique as they come and had it happened to a big football club, we wouldn't hear the end of it.

I think theatre from its very beginnings has been used to get messages across to people, to me that is the essence of why we create theatre and why people have been creating Theatre for thousands of years. That's not to say that shows without a message/ moral have no place, but without pieces with strong social commentaries in them I don't think theatre would be what it is today. There is (pleasingly) a huge amount of talk about men's mental health in and around sport these days. How far do you think we have come and how far do you think there is still to go? I think it's going in the right direction, especially in Rugby League it has become a huge thing to speak up about your mental health, after decades of being seen as the tough man sport where you stick it out. I think a lot more work needs to come from the top, there are countless amazing charities and support groups being set up all around the country but they can only do so much and getting mental health support through the NHS is not far from impossible. It's as if the people are waking up to the problem but the government are not, they only want to step in when someone is at breaking point, which far too often is too little too late. If we are to continue to head in the right direction regarding this then more needs to be done by the government. We saw you on the Royal Mile with 'Bullman' on your head in some fairly hot weather and the show itself is fairly physical, how did you cope physically with the run?

Better than I thought! As you saw the show is quite physical, plus clocking up around 20,000 steps a day with Bullman on my head, was very draining. However I have felt myself get fitter as the weeks went on and when it's doing something I enjoy so much I don't mind the tiredness!

What are your plans post Fringe? What does the future hold (for Jake and for the Bulls!)? I would like to take AMFFG around some mental health support groups and Rugby clubs. I'm also starting a masters degree in Dramaturgy in September, through which I hope to write another play (details of which are not yet known). So no set on plan but I hope to be able to forge myself a way into a creative career. As for the Bulls who knows, I'd like to say we'll be challenging for promotion out of the Championship but after this seasons performance I'm not so sure, so I suppose just keep hoping....

If this was your first visit to the Edinburgh festival what were your thoughts about it? It was my first trip to the festival and it's everything I'd ever hoped it would be! I can't believe I hadn't been sooner but I've certainly got the fringe bug so this won't be the only year you hear of me!

Do you think The Bulls will ever get back to Super League?

The Championship is more fun than Super League anyway, isn't it? Proper rugby! I'd really like to think so but a lot of work must be done first, I don't think it's possible to be challenging for Super League without having a full time squad, which unfortunately is beyond us financially at the moment. You are right though the Championship is certainly more rough and tumble and often more entertaining!

Thanks to Jake for taking the time out to answer our questions and good luck for the future.

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